The Flute Maker

I started my working life in industry, as a research engineer, didn't care for it and left to 'do my own thing' aged 26, a good decision which I have never regretted, for I love making things and you can't do much of that sitting in an office. However, as the years roll by, I do occasionally dream of the comfortable office that might have been - the one looking out over my vast flute factory: long trains bringing in the silver ore, smoking chimneys, the distant sound of rolling mills and forges. Ours is still a great manufacturing nation and in my small way I feel proud to be part of it. Even though we may not get rich, we solitary craftsmen, we probably do a great deal more leading and listening to our customers than the bigger companies. Some of our reward comes from being nearer the other points of that triangle. Competition within the industry is however fierce and smaller makers rarely have the resources for continuous, effective publicity. Our work can go unnoticed, amongst the welter of factory-made imported stock, yet there is probably a greater concentration of flute making expertise in this country than anywhere.

There is no doubt that, to players, our work is vital. Their torrid, competitive environment forces an endless search for an edge, which can often only be satisfied by a truly hand built instrument. This may well be somewhat customised in matters of scale, keywork design, etc. as a result of consultation with the maker in person, who may thus be regarded as more than an artisan, rather a facilitator, or intermediary between musician and the music, helping the one to earn his bread by the dissemination of the other, more effectively than his colleagues. This gives the work a serious responsibility that distinguishes it from most of the other arts and crafts, bringing it closer to the industrial tool making industry. By the same token, much of the potential for self-expression, a normal feature of craft work, is denied to the musical instrument maker, who is so constrained by the use to which his product will be put. Nearly all his effort will be focused on making life easier and more satisfying for his clients, leaving little room for his own artistic indulgences. A tour around any musical instrument museum, however, will demonstrate that this principle has not always been upheld, and indeed in my former life as a harpsichord maker I found it necessary to build them as beautiful pieces of furniture, often with lavish and outmoded decoration. It was easy to lose the plot! When the import of ivory was banned (key coverings), I finally realised that messing about trying to copy old instruments was too retrogressive for my taste. Eventually I had the good fortune to meet John Webb, silversmith and headjoint maker, and a new business was born.

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Even though we may not get rich, we solitary craftsmen, we probably do a great deal more leading and listening to our customers than the bigger companies.